Under new Government proposals, all producers of packaging will have to bear the full cost of packaging waste – including local authority litter and waste collection costs – from 2023.

The scheme, which effectively aims to transfer the full costs of packaging waste and litter from local authorities to businesses, is conservatively expected to cost business some £2.7 billion, although some estimates are considerably higher than this.

The objective is claimed to be to “incentivise producers to reduce packaging, adopt reusable packaging and increase recyclability”.

Under the consultation, which closes on 4th June, producers are defined as those businesses that place the packaging on the market.     This encompasses a wide range of businesses, including brand owners, importers who place products on the market and packaging wholesalers supplying small businesses.

The consultation makes it clear that the brand owner will be held responsible for packaging, not the packer or filler as it says ‘it is often the Brand Owner and not the contracted party’ who influences the packaging specification.

The fees charged to producers will be higher for those who use unrecyclable packaging as an incentive for them to change and there will be reduced fees where producers invest in collection and infrastructure schemes that enable the recycling of materials that are currently unrecyclable.  An example would be the collection points for plastic films and flexibles.

There is also a proposal for all packaging to be “clearly and consistently labelled to inform consumers whether it can or cannot be recycled” and this is to be based on whether the infrastructure is in place to enable the packaging to be recycled rather than, as at present, whether it is technically feasible to recycle the packaging.  The aim is to have this in place by 2026/27.

Consideration is being given to whether sellers of single-use cups should be required to provide takeback facilities for these cups to ensure they are recycled.   Encouragement is also proposed, through lower fees, for the use of reuse and refill systems.

The consultation also recognises that there are currently challenges associated with the use and management of compostable and biodegradable packaging which do not fully biodegrade in the open environment, some of which require plastic treatment at the end of their life.   It says that these are unlikely to be considered recyclable under this scheme and will, therefore, attract higher fee rates.

In terms of payments, producers will be charged a fee based on the tonnage and the quality of packaging waste collected and recycled.   Producers would be obligated by law to report the weight of packaging they placed on the market.

Under current packaging regulations, businesses with a turnover of less than £2 million and who use less than 50 tonnes of packaging a year are exempt from reporting and evidence obligations.    Under these new rules, it is proposed that the exemption should either be reduced to £1 million and 25 tonnes or that distributors/manufacturers/importers of unfilled packaging should be required to account for the packaging used by these businesses.

The full consultation document can be found at https://consult.defra.gov.uk/extended-producer-responsibility/extended-producer-responsibility-for-packaging/